Socialist realism 1920 – 1980

Term used to describe the idealization of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the arts, apparently first used in the Soviet journal Literaturnaya Gazeta on 25 May 1932 After the cultural pluralism of the 1920s in the Soviet Union, and in line with the objectives of the Five-year plans, art was subordinated to the needs and dictates of the Communist Party In 1932, following four years of ideological struggle and polemic among different artistic groups, the Central Committee of the party disbanded all existing artistic organizations and set up in their place party-led unions for individual art forms In the summer of 1934, at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers, Socialist Realism was proclaimed the approved method for Soviet artists in all media Andrey Zhdanov, who gave the keynote address at the Congress, was Stalin’s mouthpiece on cultural policy until his death in 1948 In the words of his leader, the artist was to be ‘an engineer of the human soul’ The aim of the new creative method was ‘to depict reality in its revolutionary development’; no further guidelines concerning style or subject-matter were laid down

Socialist realism is a style of realistic art that was developed in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in that country as well as in other socialist countries Socialist realism is characterized by the glorified depiction of communist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat, by means of realistic imagery Although related, it should not be confused with social realism, a type of art that realistically depicts subjects of social concern

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Socialist realism was the predominant form of approved art in the Soviet Union from its development in the early 1920s to its eventual fall from popularity in the late 1960s While other countries have employed a prescribed canon of art, socialist realism in Soviet Union persisted longer and was more restricted than elsewhere in Europe

Socialist realism was developed by many thousands of artists, across a diverse society, over several decades Early examples of realism in Russian art include the work of the Peredvizhnikis and Ilya Yefimovich Repin While these works do not have the same political connotation, they exhibit the techniques exercised by their successors After the Bolsheviks took control of Russia on October 25, 1917, there was a marked shift in artistic styles There had been a short period of artistic exploration in the time between the fall of the Tsar and the rise of the Bolsheviks In 1917, Russian artists began to return to more traditional forms of art and painting

Shortly after the Bolsheviks took control, Anatoly Lunacharsky was appointed as head of Narkompros, the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment This put Lunacharsky in the position of deciding the direction of art in the newly created Soviet state Lunacharsky created a system of aesthetics based on the human body that would become the main component of socialist realism for decades to come He believed that “the sight of a healthy body, intelligent face or friendly smile was essentially life-enhancing” He concluded that art had a direct effect on the human organism and under the right circumstances that effect could be positive By depicting “the perfect person” (New Soviet man), Lunacharsky believed art could educate citizens on how to be the perfect Soviets